Music News

Shel Silverstein

Not only was Shel Silverstein a bona fide pop-culture renaissance man, but he operated between enormous extremes while he was doing it. From lascivious Playboy cartoonist to gentle children's-book author and illustrator, from the sensitive songwriter who created "Sylvia's Mother" to the raucous provocateur who raised hackles and unit sales with "A Boy Named Sue" and "Cover of the Rolling Stone" to the playwright and screenwriter and film scorer, Silverstein was a study in stark contrasts. Equally compelling was Silverstein's wide-ranging recording career. His songs, from heartfelt to novel, were covered by some of the biggest names in music -- Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Bobby Bare -- and his compositions single-handedly raised Dr. Hook's star on that band's first two albums.

But it was his own quirky records that caused the biggest consternation, from the overt sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll references on Freakin' at the Freakers Ball (1969) and The Great Conch Train Robbery (1979) to the quiet magnificence of his work on translating his children's books to vinyl (the Grammy-winning Where the Sidewalk Ends in 1983, A Light in the Attic in 1985). Silverstein's tragic death last year at age 67 robbed the world of a half-dozen creative geniuses in a single passing.

To commemorate his life and to mark the 25th anniversary of the book and album, Columbia/Legacy has remastered and reissued the brilliant Where the Sidewalk Ends, including 11 unreleased nuggets of Silverstein wisdom and silliness. The extra tracks add only ten minutes to Sidewalk, but it's clear that Silverstein never required more than a few potent seconds to make his point -- and an impression. His manic-expressive delivery was always as important as the poems and songs themselves, and the additions to Sidewalk are further proof of that contention, as unearthed gems like "One Inch Tall," "Long-Haired Boy," and the delightful "If the World Was Crazy" stand easily with classics like "The Yipiyuk," "Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too," and "Hug o' War." In the deafening silence that Shel Silverstein left in his wake, the reissue of Where the Sidewalk Ends is his shouted, lauded, spouted, routed, trouted, pouted, touted, and clouded epitaph.

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Brian Baker